On Tuesday, the Culture Council issues an unsolicited advice to the cabinet, which also fits in with the political agenda of the State Secretary for Culture and Media; invest in (further) digitization of the cultural sector. During the coronalockdowns, many companies and institutions started streaming performances and came up with more innovative ways to work online. And although the enthusiasm for this among decision-makers largely disappeared during corona, also because no money could be made from it, the council believes that digitization will also be inevitable in the future. In its advice, the council makes an inventory of the necessary measures to continue this transformation. In short: it requires targeted investment, the sector must cooperate more to achieve economies of scale, and the vulnerable position of producers must be improved.
Many costly topics are already on the agenda for cultural sector reform – the labor market, diversity/inclusion, greater cultural participation, music education – and money is tight. Why should the government invest in digitalisation?
Kristel Baele, chairman of the Culture Council: “The common thread in all our corona councils was ‘agile and robust’, and that includes digitalisation. The digitization process that started during the shutdowns has also led to new art forms. Creators had time to experiment and invent new forms. For example, you show not only the performance, but also short documentaries about the manufacturing process. Digital performances also attract different audiences. A 70+ lady told us that she then streamed concerts that she would otherwise never have bought a ticket for.
“Furthermore, society as a whole, including the cultural sector, is digitizing, and it is important that the sector itself is in control, so that the development fits into the practice of the decision-makers and leads to a fair distribution in the production chain. Finally, we see opportunities for the Netherlands as a whole. In the UK, as part of their Brexit strategy, they have one white paper on the connection between culture and digital. They saw; we have a fantastic digital infrastructure and a high-quality artistic landscape. If we connect both, we can belong to the cultural world summit. It inspired me, because the same goes for the Netherlands. We therefore believe that there are huge opportunities for the Netherlands in more digitalisation.”
The Council talks about “technology hubs”. What are they and how do they play a role in that process?
“The inspiration for these ‘hubs’ comes from science. In the natural sciences, collaborations between universities and colleges and business lead to knowledge development. Scale-ups, start-ups and all kinds of new developments are created around this. But it requires combining knowledge, economic activity and innovation in one physical location. It is also possible in the cultural sector.”
One of the problems after corona is empty halls, apart from large productions. Doesn’t digitization lead to cannibalization, even empty halls?
‘Give the cultural sector more time to recover’
“No, just the other way around. You feel that big names attract audiences, but that younger creators and artists don’t get work, and new and experimental productions don’t intervene. The beginning of the career chain is now stagnating. It’s the third year in a row that young makers have not been able to show who they are. In the absence of play areas and exhibition spaces, therefore, one of the things we propose is a digital channel: a national platform for digital cultural expressions where you can show these kinds of productions.”
Doesn’t that create a dichotomy between businesses, live versus digital only?
“No, it’s not either/or but both/and. Young experimental creators try things out. Elements from here are taken over by bigger names. The core of this advice is that there is a chain of creation in which all elements interact.
“I am not saying that only small productions should go to the digital channel, on the contrary. There should also be good things to see that some would otherwise not buy a ticket for.”
Do decision makers also want this digitization, or is it a political favorite?
“A number of people find physical performance better than digital, which is fine. There are also decision makers who say; digital, I will never do that. Also fine. But many say: Because we are open again, and today’s questions require all that time, money and energy, we can no longer take digital innovation further, and we also want to.
“The hallmark of digitization is the ability to create and participate regardless of time and place. It’s a big asset, we didn’t have that before. You went to a show in one place at one time. And despite all the good intentions, it created a dichotomy in society. If you can’t travel or have other things to do, you won’t get away. I think that is the advantage of digitization. It creates a ‘new space’.”
That unity of time/place is the special thing about live performances.
“Sure. Digitization will not replace ‘normal’ analogue cultural expressions either. But I sometimes think that we, who have the time and opportunity to sit in that cocoon of the room, forget that many people do not have that opportunity.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on 6 September 2022